500.A15 P 43/115b

The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives (Porter)

My Dear Mr. Porter: I learn that certain Members of Congress feel some misgiving as to the desirability of appropriating funds for our further participation in the work of the Preparatory Commission on the Limitation and Reduction of Armaments, which was recommended in the President’s message of January 7.19 These misgivings appear to be based on the feeling that the Preparatory Commission has achieved nothing in the way of the limitation and reduction of armaments. It is clear that this is due to a misapprehension as to the task of the Preparatory Commission and it seems to me that I can not do better than to outline briefly for your information the purpose of the Preparatory Commission and the work thus far performed by it.

In the first place, the Preparatory Commission was not convened for the purpose of concluding agreements for the reduction and limitation of armaments. It was felt that if the representatives of all governments met in a conference to seek a solution of the complicated problems of disarmament on land, sea, and in the air, and conclude definite agreements for the limitation and reduction of armaments it would prove to be a hopeless task and no definite results could be achieved. It was therefore considered desirable to convene the representatives of a limited number of states to conduct a preliminary survey of the general problems involved and to draw up, if possible, an agenda which could serve as the basis of discussion of a final conference. The American Government felt that it could not fail to give its full cooperation to any effort of this sort, particularly in view of the fact that it has at all times earnestly advocated practical measures looking to the effective reduction and limitation of armaments, and accordingly a full and well equipped delegation was sent to Geneva with instructions to cooperate in the most generous and friendly spirit.

You are doubtless familiar with the questions which were submitted for the study of the Preparatory Commission and I need not, therefore, go into them in detail. However, a copy of the Questionnaire is transmitted herewith for your convenience in reference.20 It cannot be justly said that there has been no progress although it is as yet too soon to prophesy with any certainty as to how far definite achievement will prove practicable, but it is the view of this Government that so long as there is any hope of attaining definite results [Page 164] it would be inconsistent with our traditional policy for us to withhold our full cooperation.

When the Preparatory Commission met there were many divergent views expressed as to what constituted practical solutions for the various problems set forth in the Questionnaire. These problems were referred to various technical subcommittees which, after discussing them during several months, succeeded in eliminating a number of conflicting views and narrowed the field to two principal schools of thought.

One school of thought, which is representative of the views of a group of governments chiefly situated within a limited area of the European Continent, may be generally indicated by five of its fundamental principles:

That security must be guaranteed by some form of military assistance against aggression as a necessary condition precedent to the reduction and limitation of armaments;
That agreements for the reduction and limitation of armaments must be guaranteed by an international inspection and control of the military establishments to ascertain whether treaty obligations were being faithfully executed.
That there exists a complete interdependence of armaments and that it is impossible to deal with any single category (land, sea, or air) without simultaneously dealing with the others;
That it is not sufficient to deal with the actual peace-time armaments of nations but that industrial, financial, economic, and other factors must be taken into account in any general scheme that may be drawn up;
That any agreements on the limitation and reduction of armaments in order to be effective must be universal and that there must be a single standard system applicable to all countries of the world.

This scheme appears to us to involve so many complicated and difficult factors that its adoption would retard rather than forward the limitation and reduction of armaments. Consequently at the beginning of the Conference the American Delegation presented certain principles for consideration which may be briefly stated as follows:

That there should be a direct approach to the question of limitation and reduction of armaments without awaiting complicated measures for providing security, in the belief that the cause of security will be promoted through the reduction and limitation of armaments and the elimination of suspicion and ill-will which can be expected to follow;
That in order to be really effective agreements for the reduction and limitation of armaments must be founded upon a respect for treaty obligations and a belief in the good faith of the contracting parties. It is our belief that any agreements founded upon distrust and providing for a machinery of inspection and control will not only fail to achieve its purpose but will create new elements of suspicion and ill-will;
We believe that insistence upon a joint consideration of land, sea, and air armaments will tend to render needlessly complicated the task of a final conference and will tend to render more difficult achievement in regard to the limitation and reduction of any single category of armament. For that reason we feel that ultimate success lies along the line of isolating from the general problem as many concrete questions as possible and dealing with them in a direct and practical manner;
We feel that the only practical approach to the question of the limitation and reduction of armaments is through dealing with visible armaments at peace strength. We feel that this is a relatively simple problem where we are dealing with known quantities and where, through the exercise of patience and good will, we can hope for constructive achievement. We feel, on the other hand, that any scheme involving the complicated and variable industrial, financial and economic factors would tend to inject a needless complication into the problem and render more difficult any hope of real achievement;
It is our view that there is no possibility of devising a system for the limitation and reduction of armaments which could be made either applicable or acceptable to all countries of the world and that any attempt to reach such a solution would merely mean an indefinite postponement of achievement. We feel that land and air armaments constitute an essentially regional problem and that different solutions can best meet the needs of different regions; that naval armament can best be dealt with through direct agreement among a limited number of naval powers.

I may state, for your information, that when we entered the Preparatory Conference in May, 1926, we had no previous arrangements or understandings with any government. Our representatives stated our views at the opening meeting and we feel that the six months discussion which followed have only served to confirm the soundness of the stand taken by our representatives. This is further confirmed by the fact that from a position of almost complete isolation at the beginning of the conference our thesis has so far commended itself to other delegations that before the recent adjournment in November almost half of the conference voluntarily came to support our views without any changes, concessions, or abandonment of principle on our part.

It seems to me that it has been a distinct step in advance to eliminate many divergent views and narrow the field down to a choice between two schools of thought. This work has been carried as far as it could be by the technical representatives who conducted most of the discussions at the first meeting. At the meeting in March the entire problem will be taken up by our political representatives, whose essential duty is, so far as possible, to conciliate the conflicting views which I have set forth for your information and to prepare an agenda for a general conference. I may say that we believe that such conciliation [Page 166] is possible in that we feel that some features of the other thesis while not acceptable to us may be entirely applicable to the special needs of other countries. Our thesis is tolerant in that it seeks to understand the problems and requirements of other countries and other regions, and we believe it is best calculated to lead to direct and practical achievement.

My purpose in outlining these two schools of thought is to bring out the necessity for the sort of preliminary work that is being done by the Preparatory Commission and the hopelessness of trying to call a general world conference to conclude treaties until we have reached some measure of agreement as to the problems to be discussed. Until such agreement is reached, it would be impossible even to draw up a programme for a conference and, accordingly, the Preparatory Commission will have achieved a full measure of success if it is able to present a definite agenda acceptable to all governments. I feel very strongly that in view of our consistent advocacy of the limitation and reduction of armaments we can not withhold our full and cordial cooperation in any effort of this sort to explore the subject and facilitate a practical approach to the problem. Furthermore, I desire to point out, for your consideration, that if after participation in the work of the Preparatory Commission during the six months we now withdraw for lack of necessary funds, it would not be surprising if the inference were drawn in some quarters that we were not sincere in our advocacy of the limitation and reduction of armaments.

I am [etc.]

  1. S. Doc. 192, 69th Cong., 2d sess.; also Congressional Record, vol. 68, p.1201.
  2. Not printed, but see memorandum incorporating the questionnaire, transmitted to the Chargé in Switzerland, Apr. 29, 1926, Foreign Relations, 1926, vol. i, p. 89.